These adjectives don’t really do a full justice to the experience one has travelling through this land, the ‘JULLEY’ land. Set amidst the Mighty Himalayas, Deep Gorges and the enormous valleys of Holy Indus, Zanskar, Shyok the ‘River of Death’; this region “LADAKH” leaves you bewildered due to its sheer audacity of its might.
It was a vacation long dreamed off. My sister had travelled there around 7 years back and I could only watch the beautiful captures later. It was then I had decided to visit this place once in my lifetime.
Some places are such that you need a like-minded people with you, just the ones (Nikhil, Nitesh, Vaibhav, Vishal, Swapnil and me) who decided the time is right and its now. Plans were set in motion, tickets booked, preparations started and so we set off to a much awaited voyage. We came crashing down to reality when recent Kashmir issue didn’t seem to subside. We had to make last ditch changes in our originals plans so instead of coming back via Srinagar we decided to head back via Manali and hoped that there won’t be any more hurdles waiting to pounce on us.
This is just my first travelogue folks, please do leave a comment or message if you like this which would encourage me to write and travel often.
Day 1: Mumbai – Leh (28th July 16)
An early morning flight 4AM Departure from Mumbai took us to Leh. We landed around 6.35AM and we had our driving companion for the journey “Rigzin” waiting for us outside of the airstrip. We shared pleasantries and we knew our journey is going to exceptional with this fella. I did have few run-ins earlier with this guy’s chirpy, witty attitude. He hadn’t shied away from pulling my leg too on few occasions.
We had not booked any place to stay anywhere on this trip although we had short listed a few. We started exploring our options and finally settled for a “guest house with no name” (should be read on the lines of Game of Thrones, A Girl has no name). It is located at the very end of Changspa Road, in a small lane opposite Rigzin Guesthouse. It was practically new since we were only his 3rd customer there since it opened for business at start of that week. We found out couple of days later that the name is gonna be “Green View Guest House” (the name made complete sense of it, quite literally). We got a good deal there. The owner was extremely courteous, arranging to keep our hefty luggage while we would be on the run with smaller bags. Although it was not fully functional ‘the guest house’, we weren’t complaining much. We wanted to explore nearby options anyways. We were awake all night and hungry so we put down our bags and set off to find a place to fill our belly. Keeping in mind not to exhaust ourselves much, we went to a café called “Zen World Restaurant”. Not having many options available since it was just opening for the day (8.30 AM aroundish), we were ordering anything which would be prepared quickly so even ended up ordering a chicken fried rice..yes you read it correctly, a frigging chicken fried rice at 8.30 in the morning :P. Guess you now know how hungry we were. It’s a decent place, would obviously not my first choice but not last either. After getting our tummies full, all of us wanted to rest hence we came back to our guest house, freshened up and quickly went to much needed sleep for couple of hours.
Hardly anyone must have slept; breathing had become heavy so we were awake in order to acclimatize better, just lying down to give a bit of rest at least. We again were feeling the need to eat something, so went outside to try some local cuisines and ended up in a place called Summer Harvest. We were recommended about this one by some locals and we weren’t disappointed. These guys serve come exquisite local cuisines. The Thukpas, the momos were amazing. While coming here, we came across another restaurant named Bon Appetit which is located down a lane off Changspa Road, the path leading here makes you think you are walking by lanes of some European city with neatly paved walkway, carved walls. We decided to visit this place later in our trip.
After having delicious Tibetan meal, we decided to explore that Bon Appetite walkway since we could see the same sight as we could see from Guest House Window which later proved to be a too much of a walk since we couldn’t really find a road that would lead us directly to backside of our place. We took a huge huge circle and ended up coming out right outside Zen World :-P. We were really tired by now. Evening was already upon us and few decided to have some drinks to go with a host offered bonfire. It was totally worth it since it was being colder than usual for all of us. We slept around 12.30 knowing that we have start leisurely tomorrow.
Day 2: Leh – Hunder (29th July 16)
After a good night’s sleep we awakened to a beautiful morning overlooking mountains and Shanti Stupa. We quickly freshened up, packed our bags for 3 day venture to Nubra followed by Pangong Tso. We deposited our luggage into store room and we bid adieu to Owner and assured that we’ll be coming back (Had no options anyways since we were keeping our luggage there :-D). We had hefty breakfast nearby but I forgot the name of the joint altogether. A mix of Bread Omelettes, Paranthas, Sandwiches and we were in good mood. I always believe that a good meal makes wonder on oneself. I truly believe that.
Soon after we reached North Pullu, submitted our self declared ILPs and moved ahead. We broke out for lunch somewhere on the road. Some Soups, Paranthas, Ladakhi tea is what we had and moved ahead. The actual plan was to visit Turtuk as well but since that was dropped the earlier day, we were moving ahead with many photo and sutta breaks. The views and hues change at every corner after you pass Khardung village. Now suddenly there was an urge to reach Hunder sooner. So we decided to move at a faster pace. Rigzin showed me the road which goes towards Pangong Tso via Agham. And we had the first glimpse of muddy shyok river. From the distance it was as if we were watching some marshland but the nearer we reached, we could see the immense force of water. The river was in full flow I suppose. I was praying that we should be in a position to take our desired Agham route. We passed Khalsar and next destination was Deskit Monastery. The giant statue of Maitreya Buddha was seen from distance and we’re excited to see it. Right from the top you get a 360 view of the entire valley and its HUGE, trust me it is. After a mandatory photo shoot of the area & us we broke forward, bought some fruits some local bread from market in Deskit and we were on our way to Hunder. The road again zigzags through and suddenly there was piles of sand could be seen in distance, famous White Sand Dunes of Hunder. We decided to check in some home stay first get fresh and then visit the dunes. So we checked into Yourdum Guesthouse which is a lovely place surrounded by apple, apricot plantation and a stream which flows right next to the bungalow. We hurriedly freshened up and moved towards Sand Dunes. It’s nothing but wonder that you have this place tucked away between huge mountains on two sides, a river which flows at a good pace and some lush greenery and the SAND DUNES. There is also a stream which flows nearby in full force carrying cold glacial water. WOW, simply amazing this place is. None of us really wanted to do a camel ride so we just enjoyed the dunes walking far distances into a corner sitting there and chitchatting. We even watched a Culture Performance by some locals. We came back really tired, and were served a tasty dinner. We were so hungry, we simply ate in silence. I was chatting with Rigzin regarding next day plan and it was decided to start our day as early as 6 so avoid any issues on Shyok River road. I passed this plan along to others and we went to sleep after few games of cards.
Day 3: Hunder – Pangong Tso (30th July 16)
As planned, we were ready by 6 AM and waiting for our breakfasts which was basically a Tea with Bread Butter Jam and then Rigzin broke the news to us that we still have time and its okay if we leave around 6.30 so we leisurely had our breakfast and started the journey towards Pangong Tso via Agham. A road which traverses through mountains, next moment a river, shooting stone area the next, a sign board which says not to honk due to possible cause for shooting stones or even a land slide. It was going to be a memorable one for sure. We were searching for cigarettes and we came to know that Nubra Valley has been declared a No Smoking Zone while only place where you get a packet is some Army Café (ironic, isn’t it?) (PS : I have no intention to defame the Armed Forces here and I still have utmost respect for them). We left around 6.45 AM and had decided not take many breaks until we reach Shyok village but come on; that entire stretch is so beautiful, filled with raw beauty of nature that we couldn’t resist but to take a few. At a point road dips from top of the mountain to river bed in span of 7-8 mins, there are so many loops and you suddenly find yourself right next to river. God those are some awesome views you get while traveling on this road. Then came a point where we had to get down from road and into valley cause the road which is available passes through the streams which feed the river. (It isn’t scary when one reads it now but imagine if you leave late into day and find yourself waiting for water to subdue. Don’t try that people.) We crossed such areas three-four times before we hit the road again. Soon we reached Shyok village which is beauty onto itself, nicely tucked away at a foot of the mountain amidst of greenery everywhere. We had a brunch there consisting of Maggie, Omelettes and a Yippee Noodles for Rigzin which followed by Lemon Ginger Tea which was newly found addiction for many of us. We were on road again and clock was just ticking at 10.30 ish meaning we were right on time. Whoa that was relieving news.
Ascend started after that and we reached Durbuk in no time, which is a place where road leading to Pangong Tso via Chang La meets the Shyok Valley road, we took left at the junction and started towards Tangste and ultimately Majestic Pangong Tso. There is another check post right after this where you need to submit a copy of SD ILPs (Self Declaration for Inner Line Permit) which we diligently did and moved ahead to destination for the day Pangong Tso. We noticed some Marmots, Pashmina Goats on the way and suddenly Rigzin stopped the car and asked us to look towards left of the car in next 10 mtrs and there you are… the FIRST VIEW of the BLUE HUES of PANGONG. It took us into some other reality altogether and we eagerly awaited to reach the most sought after venue in entire of Ladakh. We were spell bound the moment we reached there. Silently got out of the car and we could kind of not believe our own eyes that we have reached a destination which many of wanted to visit since long time, some years to say the least (right after the time Kareena kissed Amir in 3 Idiots may be :-P). I had a look at my phone to check the time and it was around 12.15 PM so that meant we covered the distance from Hunder to Pangong Tso in about 5 ½ hours including 45 mins of brunch break and photo+bio breaks which was good.
As we neared the waters, cold breeze had set in by then. Sun shining brightly above us and yet when I placed my hand inside that water, it sent shivers down the spine as it was cold, I mean really cold. There are some small rocks leading into one end of Pangong Tso which are prominently used as photo spot by tourists. We lined up there to click some photographs of us. Multiple of funny photos were captured there. As most of the tourists, we also tried Person Standing on Palm Pose. :-P perks of being surrounded by tourists :-D. We left the shores of Pangong Tso towards our Car & found that there was make a shift Archery Centre set up by some Local and we could but not resist the temptation of trying our hand. No arrow from our attempts was reaching the target, rather near the target. Suddenly someone walked in, a Local may be and shot the arrow to near a perfect 10. We were stunned and asked him to show us the technique which I am sure would be of help to us during our next foray in Archery.
We left there with heavy heart. Leaving the shores of that beauty was heartbreaking. We brought back to normal by Rigzin’s statement “abhi hum issike sides se aage jaayenge aur aapaka stay shore k kaafi najdeek hai”. Well that was the case as we started driving towards the village of Spangmik. We reached there in no time. For entire time of our ride, we were driving along the coast of Pangong Tso. We checked into Pangong Villa guest house and we were so damn hungry by now. We freshened up a little and went out in search of a nearby restaurant to have some food. I was kind of suffering from acidity by now and was in no mood to have anything, but to negate acidity I had to eat something so I ended up ordering a curd and a jeera rice which happened to be the best dish we ordered. This was a feeling since we saw a group of Israelis not liking the food there at all; not up to their Expectations maybe but we ate that nonetheless.
We decided to head towards water again when the wind really picked up speed and it started bustling through our jackets and the rain followed the suite. We had to take cover near tents which are set up right next to the lake. When we looked towards the mountains the entire snow covered peaks had nearly vanished in clouds. We suspected or rather expected snowfall that night. All this weather change subdued in around 20 minutes and we were finally able to make it to the water. After some customary photos we headed back in a room and we found ourselves sitting on the verandah edge peacefully sipping tea, few of us were sipping rum all this while Pink Floyd was playing on a Bluetooth speaker. Man that is some experience I tell you. We spent somewhere around 2 and half hours that way. That setting was a pleasure and an absolute one. Soon the sun had set and the cold started increasing we wear relaxing in a room and went out for dinner in sometime. Dinner was delicious consisting of Roti, Rice, Dal and Aloo sabzi.
Post that we sat in our rooms playing cards mendhicoat to be precise(The king of hearts is still ours btw) that is one funny little incident that occurred and the lights went out at the same time. In no time we hit the sack. I just probably had slept for an hour when Nitesh woke me up to show him the mobile torch, I was having cold and my nose had choked up and I was having trouble breathing, I just couldn't sleep after that. It was becoming hard, extremely hard to breathe while lying down. Soon I realized I had hardly drank any water since afternoon and I was feeling dehydrated so I woke Nitesh up this time and asked him to accompany me in our other room so that I can at least grab a packet of Electal. I took the packet and had some with little water that was available. It was around 3:30 in the morning when I was finally able to sleep, it was 5 hours since I had woken up. This probably was AMS hitting me but I could sleep a bit after that. Next morning we had to wake up early to witness the famous Sunrise of Pangong.
Since our initial plan had changed, this was the most awaited day in the trip for me. We were to visit Kargil war Memorial. My friend had visited this last year and said to me “no matter if you don't visit any other places but you got to visit this one. This place give you Goosebumps when you come here.”
Well on this note, we had decided to move out around 9 so that we can reach Kargil in time. There is a place in Nimmoo which is famous for Samosas, The Puran hotel. Tasty samosa, chole bhature, Namkeen and Tea was a great start of the day.
Earlier in the day we visited the Sangam of Indus and Zanskar, just before Nimmoo. It’s nothing but another wonder this place. The Holy Indus meets The Beasty Zanskar. Indus being more clear water and while zanskar is all muddy water just as the Shyok. The Confluence when watched from above gives you the clear differentiation of these two colours. Just after Phey, Indus flows away from the road. The roads on this side of Leh are extremely good. The drive to Lamayuru is a smooth one, even after that barring a few patches; roads are in excellent condition. We visited Lamayuru Monastery and right before that the famous Lunar Landscapes popped up right after one turn. It's a completely different land from its surroundings, the yellow colour stands out from the typical brownish black colour of mountain which define the mountain ranges here. Soon after that we started the ascent for Fotu La. It's the highest point on Leh-Srinagar highway, as I said earlier the roads are extremely good so the journey was at a faster pace. We got down from Fotu La and soon entered a village called Wakha Wadoo. There is this hotel called Nepali Hindu Hotel, it's not a place you would normally visit but there are some mouth watering dishes that they serve. Don't order any rice except for the plain one but other preparations were extremely good. Rigzin had got up very early that day and was feeling sleepy this was another reason we took a break here.
Never guys never continue when your driver feel sleepy, it's always a good option to take a break to allow the one in driving seat to Nap a little, get fresh before you can continue further. We have done that earlier as well. So this proved to be much needed sleep for Rigzin, he was also set for the journey ahead. So the Namik La was up next. As we were descending Namik la, Rigzin explained why it's called Namik La. Namik in ladakhi means a Pillar. And watching Namik La from that point justified it. The Namik La was standing there as if it's a pillar supporting the sky above. Interesting hmmm…!!
Mulbekh was left behind as we continued to drive towards Kargil War Memorial. We passed through the town of Kargil, passed a point where Pak occupied Kashmir is in the line of sight. There is a big wall constructed here now since the lights of passing vehicles on the highway could possibly be seen by Pak troops at night. It is the time I started to feel more proud of Indian Army stationed in this region. After this wall you drive towards Drass keeping Drass River on the right side and you see many bridges crossing the river which later leads toward Army’s forward posts on line control. With that knowledge the sense of Patriotism starts growing as road bends in bends out and you reach Kargil war Memorial. Well the moment arrived when we entered through the car parking gate and a Jawan asked us to make an entry in the visitor’s register. the TIRANGA was flying high, the whole atmosphere changes when you enter inside and it did happen to us. The respect that I always had for our Armed forces shot up real high and I am sure it's gonna increase ever.
Many of those who have already visited this place told me to request the briefing from an army official so we asked around and was suggested that the person would be here in next 10 minutes, till then we could take a look at Manoj Kumar Pandey Memorial Hall around the corner. Just as we were walking towards the Memorial Hall, there was a group of school children which had turned up and were probably ending their visit. They decided to sing our beloved National Anthem. The moment we heard the first words “Jana Gana Mana” we froze and stood there with more respect and filled with immense Pride for the country and the forces who lay down their life so that the mere mortals like us can breathe the freedom. Like us everyone stood there until The Anthem ended with loud “Jai Hind”.
We started going to the Memorial Hall and right after 10 minutes; YES 10 minutes when a Jawan came and asked us to join for the briefing. We hurriedly went out and stood there in a queue to hear the briefing. A Jawan from Kumaon Regiment came forward and started the briefing in his loud & clear voice. As he explained how the entire war took place, the different points those were freed up by our brave soldiers, there were goosebumps mixed with feeling of anger towards our enemy. I am short of words here, I cannot really explain what was going through our minds but Yes one thing is certain we were, we are and we always will be proud of our Armed Forces; let it be CRPF, BSF, Indo Tibetan Border Police, the Army, the Navy and the AirForce. They are the real heroes of this country.
With heavy heart we bid our goodbyes to Memorial with the site of Tiger Hill in the distance. We had decided to spend the night in Drass the second coldest place but this being summer and keeping in mind the fact that it will be 1 hour less of travelling tomorrow, we decided to head back to Kargil.
Now this part is especially for Maharashtrians, there is a Bhavani Mata Mandir somewhere on the road between Kargil and Drass. It will be on the left hand side of the road if you are driving from Kargil to Drass. We had seen this place earlier while coming to the Drass as the Maratha regiment is Stationed there. It is a very beautiful temple hence we got down there and ask Jawan if we could visit the temple, he was quite astonished since we spoke in Marathi. We entered the temple just as they were finishing with daily Aarti of Bhavani Mata. We were delighted to meet them so were they. They welcomed us there then when we started in Marathi the expression on their faces were priceless. Meeting someone from around your hometown always makes you happy, the exact thing that happened here. They gave us ‘Prasad’ and we got into talking with them. We spent close to an hour over there and it was a quality time. One of them told us about an open for all Army Cafe which is situated at Budhkarbu which is run by Maratha regiment, he also said you get the famous Mumbai snack the vada pav. This information itself sounded yummy. Soon after that we took their leave and we reached Kargil. After much debate and dilemma we decided to spend the night there. We got into a hotel and had the worst meal of our life at Ashiana restaurant. We came back to hotel with packets of chips, biscuits now imagine :-X. Many of us watch TV as I crashed into bed.
Day 8: Leh – Tso Moriri (4th Aug 16)
After yesterdays entertaining session which went unto 2 in the morning, became the cause for us to be delayed by at least 1.30 hours. Another fact added to this was, this being our last day in Leh we had to pack our stuff in a way that we won’t need our luggage to be taken out completely over the course of next two days.
Finally we left around 9.30 AM. Since our trip to Thiksey Monastery on evening before, we came back quite late into Leh and main thing which many of wanted to buy, “Apricots” we couldn’t find anywhere since all the shops were closed. So we asked Rigzin if he knew of any place where we can buy some good quality of Apricots, being Rigzin he knew one such shop located in a corner of a market which would give us opportunity to make the purchase. We spent close to 30 mins there since there was so much variety of Dry Fruits and we were busy tasting them all :-P, breakfast before the actual breakfast :-D.
We finally bid our goodbye to this beautiful town and many of us were already making plans for their next trip here. We started on Manali Leh Highway towards Tso Moriri, our next destination. There weren’t many places we had to visit enroute so our first stop was Karu where we took a halt for breakfast. It was already close to 11.30 AM so we decided to make it a combination of good amount of breakfast which included Various Paranthas, French toast, Bread Toast with Tea, Omelettes. We also had to make arrangements for the cash which would be needed over next 3 days inclusive of payment for Car that we were hiring. Thank god we weren’t looted somewhere, would have been a good bounty if we were. After this we took the Leh – Manali until Upshi where we had to take left road which heads to Chumathang, Chumur and the one on the right is Manali highway. The road initially was in excellent condition so we were excited that our this outing is going to be a good affair which proved to be delusion as BRO had just started the work on this stretch of road so it was nothing but rocks everywhere, one thing however I would like to note is that although the roads are not in best of shapes as of now but Indus flows right next to you and the region is beautiful, so even though the ride is slow one you enjoy every bit of it. Views are bit different than what you see while going to Khardung La or Chang La, the rock formation here is completely different. At certain point when we were stopping for nature breaks or photo breaks, we took some rocks in hand, these are as if you are taking a piece of wood which would break if you apply little extra pressure. The colours however were fantastic, different purplish tints could be clearly visible. At one point we could see a kind of Rainbow of colours on the mountain. The entire mountain was rainbow coloured.
We continued till Kiari, once we had passed that there was blasting site which was being cleared by BRO guys. If anyone for whom I grew respect on this trip was BRO, absolutely mind boggling work that these men and women are doing. We had to stop there for 30 mins before we were allowed to move forward and you know no driver honked for them move aside. Imagine this happening in any other city, there would be chaos within 5 mins. But in this border region, I have come across almost all drivers waiting patiently for their turn to pass, giving way to other vehicles before making a try pass themselves. Commendable job guys. It was soon after this we reached Chumathang where we stopped to visit the Hot Water Springs, In cold climate outside the water in origin of springs was probably boiling at 70 to 80 degrees. We checked with others whether all wanted to take a break for lunch or head to Tso Moriri directly. We did have a good breakfast in the morning so no one was that hungry and also we wanted to make it to Tso Moriri in daylight so we could visit some places there. The road after Chumathand until Mahe Bridge is a visual treat, Black Tarmac with side stripes, a mountain on one side of the road and Indus flowing on the other side..wow simply superb.
We soon reached Mahe bridge where we had to take right to go towards Tso Moriri and the road going straight heads to Nyoma and China boarder later. You are not allowed to take photographs at Mahe Bridge not sure why. We crossed it and started to Korzok. The Area after you cross Mahe Bridge comes under Tsomoriri Wetland Conservation Reserve. Many times after you have crossed Mahe Bridge, a small vollage appears consisting about 15-20 households, fields, and white homes as we were haggling our way through the terrain. It took around 1.30 hours when we reached Kyagar Tso, which appeared out of nowhere. By then surroundings had started to change from barren land to more visible greener fields. Kyagar Tso itself is an emerald colours lake. After navigating for few more Kms we finally reached Tso Moriri. The first look at this lake was altogether a different experience. In Pangong Tso, only the Lake is beautiful and not so the area around it but here in Tso Moriri it’s a complete package with snow capped mountains right next to the lake, the whole area looks more beautiful than ever. By the time we reached Korzok, we were super hungry and the camp restaurant presented good option to fill our stomachs. Before that, our earlier planned place of stay Crane Guesthouse was full due to on-going Korzok festival. This lead me to another place about which I had read earlier, Goose Homestay. I had read very positive reviews about the place but I am afraid it is not the case anymore. I suppose the condition has deteriorated over course of last few years. We shared single bath room between us 6 and 3 other groups of foreigners which had 4 people each. But you know we didn’t have much to complain since we had planned to leave Tso Moriri by 4 AM next day in order to reach Manali on the same day instead of making a night stay at Jispa and move to Manali on 6th as per earlier plan. And another thing was, this is probably the remotest place one ever visits in normal travel plan so this was something to be expected.
Anyways, we checked in there and went to Camp Restaurant to eat something. Again, Maggie, Yipee and some tea we had there. Rigzin asked us to get fresh and be out of again so that we can explore further. One thing we missed is going into the actual lake since we came pretty late here and now only option for us to go near the mountain to capture late evening views of the lake from above. Mighty mountains, snow capped peaks, lush green fields and the deep blue water stretching to the horizon, Tso Moriri offers it all. The wind picked speed as the sun set, Rigzin had already warned us about this so we were ready with jackets to negate the effects of cold winds. After spending about 30 minutes here we headed back to our homestay, had a not so great dinner and went to sleep around 9.30 so that we could get up early as 4 AM next day and leave for Manali. Here again I was not able to sleep. I probably slept for an hour at max combining all small naps.
Day 10/11: Manali – Manali Local – Delhi (6th/ 7th Aug 16)
The day started around 10.30 for us since we were extremely tired by traveling the day earlier. Soon we realized we have to check out by 12. We got ready and left hotel by 12, keeping one room with us and depositing the other. We went to the same place where we had dinner yesterday and did eat hefty chunk of food. We decided to walk to places instead of hiring a cab, we visited Hadimba Temple, Vashishtha Temple and Hot Water Springs.
We then walked the roads in Old Manali, ate a mouth watering Pizza at Moon Star Café near 1947 Café in Old Manali. All this while Nikhil was constantly coordinating for our ride back to Delhi. By 6 PM we returned to hotel after some shopping and started to pack our stuff for one final time. We left for Delhi around 9, had our dinner around 11 somewhere near around Kullu. Vishal and I had decided not to sleep but Vishal was dozing off every now and then after dinner. The audio system in the car was faulty and it was playing few bunch of songs repeatedly to which we were bored to the core. There was nothing else but a continuous journey until 8.30 in the morning the next day when we reached Delhi. We tried searching for a hotel which would be cheap and near to airport which we couldn’t find. Our driver uncle suggested a way out of this. He said “Mere ghar chalo, fresh ho jaao aur main tumhe Delhi ghoomata hun fir shaam main chhod dunga Airport pe”. Our eyes actually lit up and we took the options, went to his place got fresh and again we were inside car to roam around streets of our capital. We did visit Lal Quilla, Rajghat, India Gate, Rashtrapati Bhavan. Had our driver drop us near Mahipalpur into a restaurant where we spent good two hours sipping drinks and some moments of silence. We were on our way to airport around 7 PM to catch our flight back to Mumbai.
After we had checked in our luggage and passed the security check, there was a bit delay before we were able to board the plane. That was the moment we realized, ohh man this has been quite a journey over last 11 days and its nearing an end. We promised to make another trip next year as we were entering our flight.
This was some experience, probably a lifetime one. I am sure I will visit this place once again if not next year then the year next but this feeling of crossing a place off your bucket list only happens once and this was our moment.
Thanks guys & Happy Travels !!
Post that we were enroute to Khardung la; world’s Highest Motorable Pass (although highly debatable). The initial ride was smooth since road till South Pullu is neatly laden tarmac; here we had to submit the self-declaration forms (ILPs). After this the road starts deteriorating, and it takes skilled driver just like the one we had to navigate through such rough and treacherous terrain. Soon after that we began to feel the effect of climbing high in atmosphere. There was a moment when there was utter silence inside the car and it was Rigzin who said something which brought back everyone from their trance. The sentence goes something like this “Sirjee yeh road side wale boards pe likha hua height mat padho, use aur jyada taqleef hoga”. This made sense to us and there was nod of acknowledgement from everyone of us.
One thing is certain while traveling through this region, you feel belittled by the gigantic mountains, valleys around you. You actually feel the slightness of human being.
Soon after we reached the Spot, THE KHARDUNG LA. The moment we stepped out of the car, we felt the effects of it; the shortness of breath, exhausting with just 10 steps. You gotta take photos here and we did just that.
The descent right after the pass is quite steep and one needs to drive with utmost care. There were few army vehicles coming up from the other side. You feel the presence of Army on every inch of road and you bow down to them in your mind to say the least. What’s an excursion for us is part of their life and BRO makes it certain that little trip is memorable. I mean that’s freakishly difficult and treacherous terrain out there. It’s as if the mountains are ready to pounce on you anytime, yet they do a commendable job of maintaining roads there. HATS OFF TO THEM.
Day 4: Pangong Tso – Leh (31st July 2016)
As planned we had set up alarm for 5:20 a.m. so we could witness the sunrise; not everyone woke up. It was only me, Nitesh and Swapnil who are awake at the time. I am not sure if this was the right period of the Year where one could witness a blissful sunrise of Pangong Tso. At this moment, by the time The Sun came up from behind the mountains it was so harsh that we were momentarily blinded by its very rays and that was at 5:40 a.m. We had planned a delayed departure for the day so we went to sleep again and finally woke up around 7:30 got fresh and had a breakfast of tea and paratha. We left the guest house and went to 3 Idiots shooting point, did some photos there and started our journey back to Leh around 10.30AM.
We noticed something very odd on our way back to the main road from shooting point. There was a pile of waste material at a corner which was thrown there by locals; bottles, paper plates, food, I am not sure if this is done already but authority should try and set up a waste treatment plant up in such areas.
Well moving on, we hit the road again as we bid goodbye to this beautiful lake. We were headed back to Tangste where again tokens were checked. Soon after that we started our climb to the Mighty Chang La, the roads are not in best of shapes but one thing for certain BRO is like a real brother to everyone who travels on these roads they do an exceptional job of keeping roads in shape from military and civilian population alike. It was soon when we reached the top of Chang La, the second highest pass in the itinerary we were following. Although, there is not much of a difference in the height as that of the Khardung La, when we reached the top we did not feel as bad as we did in Khardung La. Probably we were acclimatized better. We took a lengthy break there for lunch around 1:30 p.m. Yippee noodles, Lays, Kurkure and a nice cup of coffee and we wear set until the evening. Roads after descending Chang La were in a better shape and we reached Karu around 5:15 p.m. and headed straight to Hemis monastery. This monastery is located surrounded by mountains on every side. It's a beautiful place to spend some time. There is also a Hemis museum which is a must visit. It walks you through the stages of Buddhism, how it evolved and spread in Ladakh region. Later we moved towards Thiksey monastery. His Holiness Dalai Lama was scheduled to visit the Monastery on 9th of August 2016. Every Monastery official was busy doing the beautification work around the area. This monastery has a similar statue of Maitreya Buddha as the one in Deskit monastery. A monk here explained the whole story of the Monastery, also gave us some insights into Buddhism.
With that knowledge we left the monastery and started towards our newly found home, YES I say home cause the feeling of going home has started creeping in everyone's mind. As promised we headed back to our Green View. Got our bags, freshened up a little and went out in search of some good food. On this day as I said in my earlier post, we went to this place called Bon Appetit, a Continental delight. Good food, drinks, awesome climate and friend for life, what more you require man !! We ended the day there and went to sleep.
Day 5: Leh – Drass (1st Aug 2016)
Day 6: Kargil – Leh (2nd Aug 2016)
On this day we just had to reach back from Kargil to Leh, so we left around 9:30. As we were told about the Army Café we had eagerly waiting for Budhkarbu to arrive so that we could eat a vada pav. :-P Stomach was starting to cry out as we drove into military parking area. Few Jawans were getting ready to roll for their supply ferries. One of them was saying something in Marathi when Nikhil asked him whether we could park our vehicle there and that too in Marathi. Again he was delighted to see us and we exchanged pleasantries as he drove off with his convoy of trucks. We entered the cafe and have had excellent quality of food. After spending around an hour there, we headed straight to Alchi Monastery. It is the oldest Monastery in the region, we visited there and spent majority of our time in learning how to make a singing bowl sing. We had a late lunch there and started toward Leh. We had seen majority of places already and next day we were going to hire bikes, so we only did Magnetic Hill on our way back home. We reached Leh around 6 and headed straight back to our newly found home. Later we roamed around a bit deciding on bikes etc and went out for dinner at KC Garden Restaurant. It’s a decent place with good food, good music and a bonfire. (Nice touch with the bonfire). The plan was to leave at 8:30 next morning so we crash on to beds the moment we got back.
Day 7: Leh Local Sightseeing (3rd Aug 2016)
Except myself and Vishal, rest of us had decided to go rafting on this day so as planned we started off to the bike shop, filled the paperwork, submitted our licenses and got our bikes. Next stop was a Food Cafe for bikes. The Petrol Pump. Filled in our bikes tanks and started whats been the every travelers dream; biking in Ladakh. We had rented 3 bikes so Swapnil, Nitesh and Nikhil were riding while Vishal, Vaibhav and myself were the pillions just as first stop for bike was the petrol pump we wanted to find a place to fill in our tanks too. This presented us the opportunity to visit the Puran Hotel at Nimmoo once again. So it was the samosas, the chole bhature and some tea again.
Then we headed straight to the Sangam where rafting crew was waiting for us. We left two bikes at the Sangam has four of them continued in the crew vehicle while Vishal and myself followed on the third bike. All of us soon reached the spot where rafting was going to start and I tell you man the roads are smooth as Silk: Freshly laden tarmac: WOW. As the other guys prepared themselves for rafting, me and Vishal were busy clicking some photos. Rafting started and our plan simple: Move ahead of them and wait at a few pre-decided spots from where we could capture some great moments for them and we did just that. The Rafting ended at the Sangam and we was hungry as hell so again we decided to head towards Nimmoo and the same Puran hotel came to the rescue. We ended up ordering Thali for everyone and we ate in Silence so hungry were we.
We started back to Leh post lunch and stoped at magnetic Hill trying to understand the phenomena as to why it happens what happens. After much deliberation we decided just to enjoy this moment and move forward. We were stopped for a toll of rupees 20 for bike right in front of Indian Oil Station. It was the first time in the entire journey where we paid toll. Next pitstop was Hall of Fame where we spent good amount of time going through the information. Earlier in the day we had filled the tanks quite a bit but had not travelled much of a distance so we decided to head towards Thiksey Monastery again to do some photoshoots on the backdrop of Majestic views. While we were there, I was busy making plans for next 3 days as earlier plan suggested we were to reach Keylong on 5th of August and reach Manali on 6th afternoon but in the hindsight I wanted to reach Manali on 5th itself by starting from Tso Moriri quite early as 4 in the morning. There was a bit of convincing which went in but finally the plan was set.
Later we rode back to Leh. There was a bit confusion between Nitesh, me with the other 4 due to which we were delayed a bit. So finally we met each other at our guest house and without wasting any further time for the we left again to return the bikes, take out the cash and go shopping. After all this we headed straight away to KC Garden restaurant again. Since this was our last night in Leh, we wanted to make it a memorable one. With drinks it went up to 1:30 a.m. when we eventually returned back from there. Probably the Goa mood had set in. Next day we were going to start towards Tso Moriri. The clock ticked around 2 AM when we slept that day.
Day 9: Tso Moriri – Manali (5th Aug 16)
This was going to be a hectic day in terms of traveling since we would be on road until 8 PM to say the least so we had to leave as per plan. All of us except me had good amount of sleep and got up by 3.45 AM packed the remaining of our stuff and left around 4.10 AM. Again we had to navigate through non-existent roads. Merely some tire tracks. We navigated beyond Kyagar Tso again, further to which there is road which leads straight to Mahe again and if we take a left which passes through a kind of haunted village. Haunted because we did not see any kind of sign of people living there. Probably they were still asleep. Again here, we saw a hot water spring on the way to Tso Kar. The water from spring was rising at least 3-4 feet in air. We did not stop to take a look since the spring was in some field which was on other side of a water body. Soon we reached Tso Kar, during this we stopped a few times so Vishal could capture some photos of Black Necked Crane and Kiang. This was going to be a field day for us. Rigzin had another commitment and had arranged for another guy Nawang to pick us up near Debring. We reached here around 7.40 AM, exchanged our baggage to new vehicle and sipped a much needed tea. We were bidding adieu to our friend Rigzin here, so we chatted up a little. I asked him to accompany me on my next venture in Ladakh where in we decided to visit places we couldn’t visit this time around. Places like Turtuk, Siachen Base Camp, Phobrang, Marsimik La, Tso Moriri again via Hanle, Chumur there are so many places yet I haven’t explored. Everyone was filled with bit of emotions at this point since we shared a good bond with Rigzin over the course of last 8 days. Goodbyes are always tough I tell ya.
Well, we left from there eventually and started our day long journey till Manali. It was surely gonna be a hectic one. What added to this fact, Xylo has a huge design fault and roads where there is slight imbalance, it bumps like anything three times whenever you hit a imbalance roads. Soon Nawang realized that its gonna be painful if this continues and started driving slower that he normally would. We passed through Moreh plains and decided to skip breakfast and have lunch at Sarchu. We went to Stanzin’z Kitchen to which Nawang probably was a regular. Uncle served us with Rotis and Aloo Sabzi which was delicious. We started as soon as we finished our lunch. Passing through Baralacha La in process, the climb here was nightmarish experience because of Xylo being our transit vehicle. But Nawang here was making sure that bumping effect would be reduced to least. Good driving skills. We did not halt much there and everyone except Vishal and me were dozing off every once a while. We hit snag right after we passed Jispa, there was a collision between a BRO truck and another one coming from another direction, and we were informed that it may be a while before road opens again. Fortunately an Army convoy was passing on the same route, and their commandant took the initiative of clearing traffic, guiding the Army supply trucks as well as other stuck vehicles. They are always ready to extend help whatever the situation may be. We passed through without a glitch and soon reached base of Rohtang, we wanted pass rohtang in broad day light since we wanted see the beauty this place offers. We took a small break there to fill our tummies once again. As soon as we started the climb, the news crashed onto us that there is huge Traffic Jam up in Rohtang due to cloud cover. The visibility was down to 2-3 feet and it was becoming extremely difficult to navigate through such extreme weather conditions especially for heavy vehicles. We moved ahead at a slower pace and soon hit the good roads up in the pass. Cloud cover was so thick but Nawang was driving with extreme caution. Fortunately a HP car overtook us at one point which had fog lights so few of us made a convoy and started following that car at very slow speed. Hardly anything was visible outside. After we started descending, fog thinned out and then suddenly came a point when we were nearing Manali where there was denser fog. Our sleepy eyes were a thing in a past now and we were keeping our eyes wide open. Here as well we were following one HP number vehicle fitted with Fog lights but at one point it zoomed past ahead and we again were stranded. At one turn, our car had started going towards end of road and had almost got down on the left side. Vishal peaked his voice and said STOP. We were ready to get down on road and help maneuver vehicle on foot. We stopped for a while and started the drive again. After around 2 KMs, the earlier HP car had stopped to allow Bio Breaks for its passengers, so did us. There came another two cars and asked us why had we stopped, to which we answered Fog and bio-break. Here again we made a convoy and passed that foggy patch with extreme caution.
We reached Manali around 8 PM which was as we had expected. Checked in a nearby hotel which offered a good deal as it was a off season in Manali. Immediately after checking in, we went out again in search of food. A nearby place on Mall Road served some good food, we roamed outside a bit inquiring about Manali sightseeing and cab to Delhi. We came back to hotel with some information and decided to leave around 9 for local sight seeing.
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